Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Summary: On Being Sane in Insane Places - David Rosenhan - part 2 (second Rosenhan experiment)

The second Rosenhan experiment

Hospitals that learned of the results of the first Rosenhan experiment (part 1 of the summary) described in "On Being Sane in Insane Places" could not believe that such errors can systematically occur. Rosenhan therefore devised a second experiment in which the local staff was notified in advance that within the upcoming three months a fake patient will try to get himself committed to their institute. All personal were requested to rate patients according to the chances that they are the fake patient. Reports were filled on 193 patients: 41 were rated a highly likely to be fake by at least one staff member, 23 were suspected by at least one psychiatrist and 19 were suspected by one psychiatrist and one staff member. In actual fact, no fake patients were ever committed to any of the hospitals as part of Rosenhan's study.  

The second Rosenhan experiment proves that the tendency for over-diagnosis can be reversed. Since 19 patients were suspected to be sane by a psychiatrist and a staff member, the credibility of diagnosis is undermined.

Rosenhan's study and psychiatric labeling

What the Rosenhan experiments shows is that once a person is labeled as deviant, all his actions will be labeled accordingly. The power of this labeling is so powerful that perfectly normal behaviors were ignored, misinterpreted or even coerced to fit the original diagnosis. Personal facts were distorted by professionals in order to fit in with schizophrenia. Even sadness or outbursts by the fake patients that were the result of being committed were misunderstood as being related to schizophrenia. Rosenhan's study also painted a very harsh image regarding the treatment of mental patients that are dehumanized by the staff that disregard their rights and treat them harshly.

Rosenahn concludes "On Being Sane in Insane Places" in wondering how many sane people are labeled and committed as mental patients. He claims that psychiatric labeling can have a life of its own with risk of becoming a self fulfilling prophecy in which even the person himself accepts the diagnosis and begins to act accordingly.

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